Floyd Landis: Redemption and the pursuit of closure

American former pro putting the past behind him

It's a Sunday morning in the small mountain town of Leadville, Colorado, and Floyd Landis is holding what could only loosely be described as a business meeting.

Sitting on a couch, with his four-year-old daughter to his right and an employee, introduced to me as Wolfman, to his left, Landis debates the merits of a potential deal. Child now in lap, ideas flowing steadily, this is Floyd Landis the doting father and Floyd Landis the successful businessman rolled into one.

If the image comes as a shock, that's because it should. After all, four years ago Landis was sleeping in a friend's guest house just outside of New York. He was virtually penniless, almost all his friends had drifted away, and his life, by his own admission, lacked purpose. He was lost.

Leadville lies in the heart of the Rockies, where the Arkansas River runs and the snow-crested peaks stretch far into the horizon. In the 1930s, the town was a hub for mining silver but, since the drop in price the industry dried up, and the population now hangs at just over 2,000 inhabitants. A quaint town, sitting at over 10,000ft, it bursts into life during the summer thanks to a string of sporting events but, with no ski resort, retains a certain beauty and solitude that is missing from the more established communities of Aspen and Boulder.

Landis owns several properties within the town. There is the dispensary where his staff sell CBD-based products and legal marijuana, a showroom in which we're currently sitting, and two other buildings that he, his family, and close associates such as Wolfman occupy when they're splitting time between Colorado and New York. Outside of Leadville, Landis owns three outlets in the Portland area. His business isn't just legit – it's thriving.

After the meeting is adjourned, I ask Landis if he has finally landed on his feet. Our last face-to-face had been at a NYVelocity.com event back in 2011, a year or so after he had hit send on a volley of emails that would obliterate the façade that existed around a generation of riders and expose what USADA would claim at the time was "the most sophisticated doping programme ever seen". To think, marijuana wasn't even legal in Colorado when USADA came up with that line.

"I don't know if it's because they hate me, but it's surprising to this day that respected publications still call me the 'disgraced cyclist'. Like they can't think of another fucking name for me. It's bizarre," Landis says after checking his daughter is out of earshot.

"I've done a lot of things, and that's one of them, but that somehow became my title," he says as he reclines in his chair.

"I don't know how long that's going to stay my title, but if that's all they can think of, then they haven't been paying attention. But I've landed OK – I hope so anyway," he adds with a smile few would have seen over the last 12 years, since his dramatic fall from grace in 2006.

Landis' entourage is small but tight-knit. Along with his partner and daughter, there is Wolfman, who has known Landis since his Phonak days, and who also goes by the name of Scott Thomson, as well as a few inner circle employees, and a man dressed as a wizard who is either a figment of my imagination or a friendly Leadville socialite, who is convinced that ghosts frequent his apartment. The air is thin up here, clearly.

At a dinner that evening – this time with the figure of the wizard to my left – Landis asks his colleagues about their day's work. It might be a Sunday but today has been about mission statements and corporate values. Funny to some, but Floyd's of Leadville has grown to an almost 50-strong employment roster with one strand that focuses on CDB recovery and another that farms and sells marijuana.

Both sides of the business have their challenges, and while Landis does not have a background in economics or management, he is far more than just a name on a bottle or a bag of dope.

"When Colorado legalised marijuana about four years ago, I'd been living in Denver and working at a compounding pharmacy as a lab tech, and I did some sales," he says, as the wizard knowingly nods on.

"I just happened to be living in Colorado, and one of the requirements for a licence was that you had to have been a resident of Colorado for at least two years. You know, I'd been interested in it anyway, and had used it to help manage pain and avoid using opiates.

"Initially, I didn't tell anyone that I was in it because I wasn't sure what the response would be, but at some point I just decided that it was legal, and that people would make the obvious jokes, but I wanted to get some publicity and so we found a dispensary in Leadville that was for sale and it's been doing well."

CBDs and marijuana weren't Landis' first ventures into a career post-cycling. When he eventually hung up his wheels in 2010, he applied for business school but was rejected. He looked at other options but the long shadow cast by his ongoing court cases ensured that he could never truly plan for a life outside of cycling until those resolutions had been met.

The USADA report of 2012 may have been a watershed moment in the sport's history but Landis still had the matter of his whistleblower case, his Floyd's Fairness Fund, and a case in the French courts to navigate.

"They all got in the way of me focusing on something but part of it was just time. This is good for me, and it's something that I like to do but part of what helped me get through it all it was just time," he admits.

Floyd Landis and the wizard in Leadville
The wizard and Floyd Landis in Leadville, Colorado

Losing time

The years in the wilderness took their toll. In the space of a matter of days, Landis won the 2006 Tour de France before a positive test for testosterone saw his yellow jersey stripped from his back. In 2011, in what was arguably the seminal Landis interview, the ex-rider opened up his soul to Irish journalist Paul Kimmage about the demons he faced, and the downward spiral his life took as he lost his fortune, his marriage, and any semblance of peace.

"You just have to look at what has happened to some other cyclists who have gone through it," Landis now says.

"Some of them are dead. Some of them deal with it in other ways. And it's not just exclusive to cyclists; there is a culture now, especially in this country, where everyone wants to be famous, and it comes with a downside that nobody focuses on until they have to endure it. There are not really people who can relate or who can say, 'I know how that feels.' I was lucky to get through it. There's nothing you can do… It just takes time," he says, the emotion still raw.

"Since 2006, it just consumed my life because I was fixated on it. I would say it was about 10 years, and it's 12 years now, but I would probably say that it took 10 years until I got to having days at a time without thinking about it. I was forced to figure out how the real world works and to understand it."

The unresolved

If time was the measure, then distance was the means. Still, while the likes of David Millar and many of the US Postal riders who doped have been welcomed back into the sport with open arms – setting up clothing brands and launching mass-participation rides – Landis was the fall guy and a scapegoat for almost a decade.

It might be hard to find sympathy for someone who cheated, but the hypocrisy of the situation drove Landis further and further into the realms of isolation. He fought the UCI. He fought WADA. He lost on both counts, but what still grates with Landis is the fact that his battle amounted to little change within the system. His opening of the gates in 2010 should have changed the sport's entire future, but instead there was merely a token changing of the guard at the UCI after the USADA report was published in 2012, while Team Sky would establish a miserable attempt at zero tolerance.

However, the establishment at the top of the sport, which has recently faced increasing scrutiny due to the fall-out from the Russian state-sponsored doping scandal and several other similar episodes, remained intact. For Landis, the idea that clean athletes were – and still are – protected by sport's governance remains one of the greatest fallacies of all.

"I should have faced the fact that it [my career – ed] was over but I fought the whole thing because, to this day, I still think there are things that the anti-doping world should have done differently, but that's neither here nor there at this point. There were a couple of years when I was lost. I was just taking things as they came. I had never been through any kind of litigation but I don't know what other word to use other than 'lost'," Landis says.

"But the one thing to this day that really bothers me – and I think everyone sees it for what it really is – is that WADA pointed the finger at me as if I was the bad guy and they were the good guys. We know that WADA are paid for by the IOC, and there's nothing that anyone can do to change that, but the most upsetting point – and this especially applies to Travis Tygart – is that he likes to say that he's protecting clean athletes.

"He's holding me up and putting me on a pedestal and saying I'm an example of what you shouldn't be, and that the reason they're destroying my career is because they're protecting clean athletes, but where the fuck was he when I was 20 years old? We weren't allowed to be the clean athletes that they were meant to be protecting. Nobody protected us. Nobody. He refuses to acknowledge that and, until they do, they're not going to get any respect from athletes.

"The only people who are going to challenge the system are those who are charged with something," Landis continues. "If you raise your hand in a sport that's governed by the Olympics, then you're fucked. Athletes say they love WADA and USADA and how they are supporting them, but that's complete gibberish.

"Nobody believes that, and they're just terrified of these people. So the only way this is going to get solved is if someone who is charged with something fights until they're dead. That's why I hoped Lance would do it, but he chickened out. Nothing is ever going to change unless someone who is charged fights for rights rather than their own exoneration."

Even now, as recently as Alejandro Valverde's winning ride at the World Championships in Austria, Landis could see elements of history repeating itself. Valverde – due to his own doping ban and lack of contrition since – remains a divisive figure within the sport but Landis bears no ill-feeling to cycling's equivalent of Benjamin Button.

"At the end of the day, it's not Valverde's fault. People should be angry – but at the people who are selling them the idea that drug tests are working and that they're cleaning it up. All of the evidence, other than what they're saying, points to the opposite. Valverde's just taking advantage of a system that's broken, and they refuse to fix it. They refuse.

"If they wanted to get the truth – and I said this to Travis the first time I met him – then you give everyone immunity and just find out what's going on. But they don't want to do that because it would bring down the entire Olympic system. If you find out from everyone how it works, then the whole thing collapses. They don't want that at any cost. Valverde isn't the problem. He won, so good for him, good job. People get worked up but, at the end of the day, they're getting mad at the wrong people."

Floyd Landis in Leadville
Floyd Landis is looking to the future

Armstrong's money, Floyd's fairness fund

It's Monday morning and, still in Leadville, Landis has a few chores to take care of. He visits the dispensary and has a catch-up with Wolfman, before the wizard, who I've accepted as real, turns up for a spot of lunch. There's talk of appearing at a race the following weekend, but it's more of a potential marketing exercise for the Floyd's of Leadville brand than a real competition in Landis' case.

Coincidently, the week before saw a gaggle of Landis' old teammates, along with Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, gather for George Hincapie's Gran Fondo. Entrants are asked to pay a fee to enter but had the privileged opportunity of meeting at least two of the riders who testified against Lance Armstrong in order to save themselves from significant doping suspensions.

As we stroll back from lunch to the tune of the wizard's latest tales of ghosts and ghouls, Landis is asked if he still feels like an outsider. He remains close to Dave Zabriskie from their time at US Postal, but friends from his racing days are few and far between.

"There are a lot of reasons for not being in that circle but there's no amount of money that would incentivise me to go and do that," he says in relation to public appearances at events such as Hincapie's Gran Fondo.

"I don't want to be on the inside of that. I have a business to run and it's going well. I'm good at it, and I've got other things to focus on. If those guys want to milk that, that's fine. I'd never be able to do that. The idea of spending the rest of my life talking about bike races I once did is… I can't think of a worse outcome. I mean it, though."

That said, Landis still turns up at events. He has a brand to front and product to sell, and while his name and reputation might still put some off, he is a recognisable figure in the sport. However, reconciliation with the public, and the cycling community itself, has been a long process.

"I'm much better than I was. Ever. I was never really comfortable just being looked up to as a bike racer. I don't think that being worshipped makes sense to me. And then the last few times you and I have seen each other, I was going through dark periods, but when I go to bike races now with a booth, it's purely capitalism.

"I no longer feel uncomfortable about interacting with people," he says, "and part of that is because beforehand people would come up and say, 'I'm sorry for what happened. I don't believe that you cheated,' and I would have to go along with that. That was painful and it would cause me anxiety, having chosen to do that. There's something I like about bike races – funny things that I didn't notice back then. I don't completely feel like an outsider, but I think I am."

Part of that anxiety, however, was self-inflicted. In the post-Armstrong era, the public has begun to rationalise and even forgive those who crossed the line in a time of unadulterated and unchecked doping. Yet Landis took matters a step further than most, petitioning fans for financial support as he looked to take on WADA and the rest of the sport's governing powers in a fruitless battle he could never truly win. The Floyd Fairness Fund still grates, but Landis will have paid back all of the money he received by the time the fiscal year ends in 2019.

His pursuit of redemption goes further still and, having received a proportion of the settlement from the Lance Armstrong whistleblower case, Landis will invest every cent of a reported $1.1million USD back into the sport. The news that he would save the struggling Canadian Silber team in 2019 was announced in October, and closes the door on a chapter that began eight years ago with the emails he sent to USADA et al.

It is somewhat poetic that, while Landis played his part in the damage the sport went through, he eventually left the sport with exactly what he entered it with.

"Outside of cycling, I'm not sure what the perception is, and it probably doesn't matter too much. But, number one, it [giving the money away- ed] was a demonstration that this was never about money. Two, I never set out to hurt cycling. I got blamed for it a lot, as if it was part of my plan to just disregard the rules, but all it's meant to be is a demonstration that I want this to be over, and that I wish it had never happened.

"I leave cycling with nothing. I got nothing out of it and that's the last of it, and it's done. If people want to still hold it against me, then so be it, but I showed up in cycling with nothing and I left it with nothing."

For Landis, the decision to support a struggling team of under-23 riders represents a reflection of his own past and the purer entry he enjoyed into the sport before a darker world surrounded him.

"I'm partly to blame for the bad press that cycling got in the last 10 years, but this isn't just a feel-good PR thing," he says. "Those years were the best I ever had in racing before I went to Europe. I was never faced with any decisions about the rules and things like that. I was a kid, I was free, and it didn't come with complications.

"It was a lot of fun and if I can help to keep that team going, and a few guys can experience that, then it's great. But part of it is me saying that if in any way I'm responsible for what's going on in cycling then this is the only thing I can do to try and help undo what happened. It might not be good enough for everyone, but that's all I can do.

"If there's anything I can do to change the minds of people who think that I hurt cycling, and that I made bad decisions that were completely selfish, and that I never had any honourable motives in my life, then this is meant to mitigate that in some way. At least I'll know that I did whatever I could do to put it to rest and help cycling. This isn't just a stunt to get publicity. I could do that for cheaper, I think."

The future

It's almost the end of Landis' brief trip to Leadville. His partner and daughter are waiting for him as he loads up his car before heading to the airport to catch a flight back to New York.

Seeing Landis in this frame of mind has been refreshing and enlightening. There are still demons within, and pieces of a past that will never completely heal, but peace, redemption, and certainly fulfilment have been found.

There will be days when Landis still resents the sport, when he finds himself cursing what came before, but those days are now few and far between.

"Things are going well. This is something that I like to do, and it's been helpful to find something to think about so that I can stop obsessing over cycling and everything that happened. It took me a long time to get over that. So, this has been really good for me," he says.

"There are still times when a subject can come up and it can cause me a little bit of pain, but it doesn't happen as much anymore, and, when it does, it's often in a positive light. It may never be closed completely but four or five years ago I never envisaged feeling okay, and like this.

"I wasn't lost as to who I was; I was just lost as to what I was meant to be doing in life. I have my little daughter and she's four years old. That's something positive to focus on, and it's wonderful. There are some people that don't want to be parents, and there were times that I didn't want to be, either, but I'm at an age where I can appreciate it. All these things add up, but there's still a point in my mind that means I'll never forget [about cycling]. The amount of anxiety that I went through… But having positive things to look forward to in the future is the only solution. It's just that it's hard to find those things when you're fixated on something that can't be fixed."

As he packs up his car and drives into the distance, Wolfman and the wizard wave goodbye. It's a long drive to Denver airport, but Landis knows a thing or two about arduous journeys.

As the car disappears from view, it strikes me: you can't always fix your past, but you can always shape your future.

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